Call it therapy as it is third time lucky for Watford in big games against Palace, but what did we learn from the disappointing FA Cup defeat?
1. Have Palace become too nice? If our two recent defeats against Watford and Brighton have taught us anything, it is that the Eagles are lacking the necessary bite to come out on top in these tighter fixtures. Palace fans have complained of Watford being dirty, snidey and physical, but they have ultimately proved to be more savvy than us on each occasion we have played them this season. The frustration is that they play with an edge that Palace don’t; they are willing to bend the rules in their favour if it means winning at all costs. This isn’t to say that the Palace players are not up for the fight, it is merely an acknowledgement that we have often failed to respond to adversity when teams have made it difficult for us this season.
2. You cannot progress to the next round of the FA Cup with a draw. When Palace equalised at Vicarage Road it felt like the game was there for the taking. There had been a shift in momentum since half time and the Eagles were now swarming over the home side, seemingly full of belief that they were capable of going on to win. So what better time to bring on another striker in the form of Christian Benteke? Instead, Roy Hodgson stuck to his risk-free approach and watched as Javi Gracia rolled the dice by sending on Andre Gray to score the winner. He then sent on Benteke two minutes later. That is now two weeks in a row where Palace have temporarily seized the initiative and forced their way back into the game, only to go on and lose towards the end. Hodgson has been able to fall back on the excuse of a good performance on many occasions this season, but he has to bear some of the brunt for not taking decisive action at an opportune moment in a winner-takes-all quarter-final.
3. Palace miss Mamadou Sakho. The Eagles might have beaten Burnley without the Frenchman, but James Tomkins has suffered a notable dip in form since losing his centre back partner, while there is also reason to believe the 29-year-old might have done a better job of keeping both Glenn Murray and Troy Deeney quiet in recent games. What has become most apparent in Sakho’s absence, however, is just how important he is to the way Palace want to play. Despite his unorthodox style, Sakho is the only centre back in the squad capable of playing a pass from back to front. Without him Palace are finding it much harder to get up the pitch.
4. As abhorrent as this might sound, Palace would be well-advised to maintain their good relationship with Chelsea. There were not many players who came out of Saturday’s game with much credit, but Michy Batshuayi has at least shown in his short time at Selhurst Park that he gets it. The Belgian was often isolated and left feeding off scraps on Saturday, but through sheer will fashioned a chance for himself to singlehandedly drag Palace back into the game. Hot on the heels of Ruben Loftus-Cheek that is now two loan players Chelsea have lent us that have added some much-needed quality to the squad – and it would not be a surprise if they do not let us keep hold of this one, either.